Floating wind turbines and the potential for a UK industry

At the present time wind turbines are either located onshore or offshore. However, those offshore are still fixed into the sea-bed, which results in a limit to the depth of water in which they can be located in. However, recently some companies have been looking at the option of developing wind turbines suited for deeper waters.

These would probably work on a similar principle to the floating rigs used in the oil and gas industry, and so it is no surprise that two of the largest companies developing offshore wind farms are based in the UK and Norway. The BBC are reporting that the Norwegian state oil firm Statoil have launched the world's first floating wind turbine, the Hywind. This has a conventional Siemens 2.3MW wind turbine located on top of a floating rig.

However I would counter that this isn't necessarily the world's first floating wind farm, since the joint British and Dutch company Blue H have installed a prototype tension leg platform with a wind turbine on top. I would also consider this to be more cutting edge than the Statoil proposal - whilst the Norwegian design relies on a conventional turbine, the Blue H design has a turbine designed specifically for off-shore use and so it is interesting to note that it has only two blades.

Whichever option is chosen there will be great potential for using such turbines in the UK. As they are able to be located in deeper waters there are a number of benefits. Firstly, there are far more suitable sites, as at present offshore wind farms are located in shallow waters around areas such as The Wash, Thames estuary and north Wales/north-west England. As they can be situated in deeper waters further offshore they are less likely to be a visual intrusion and so it may be easier to get planning permission. Such sites won't have as a great an effect on radar, which has been a major barrier to the use of offshore windfarms particularly in the UK. It is also likely that such deep water sites will have greater average windspeeds and higher capacity factors, resulting in more generation for the same installed capacity. However there are a number of major factors which will reduce the development of such projects, most majorly the cost.

As such it is important that such schemes are reduced to a price competitive with the alternatives. It is likely that at first this will need to be done through the use of subsidies or other assistance provided by governments. I personally feel that it will be very important for the UK government to support these schemes to improve the renewable energy industry in the UK. This is an area of great potential, and so there is the potential to have a major UK deep water wind energy industry in the UK, which could potentially result in an international industry being based in the UK. The UK already has a head-start on many other countries, as it has companies already involved such as Blue H and a well developed offshore oil and gas industry, not to mention the great number of potential sites. However, it is important that this initial benefit isn't lost, and so I would urge the UK government to assist this nascent industry in any way possible.


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